Albuquerque Voters To Decide The Fate Of Proposed Abortion Ban

Aug 15, 2013

On the sidewalks along Central Avenue here in Albuquerque, Lauren Handy and about 15 other anti-abortion activists are doing their best to get an informational pamphlet about late term abortion into the hands of pedestrians.

"We actually had someone change their mind, even for first trimester." Handy says, "And that’s why were here, to change hearts and minds"

Farther up the road, Eric De la O and about 15 other young adults are holding signs with pictures of what appear to be bloody fetuses.

Handy and De la O are actually not from Albuquerque. They're members of a California based group called Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust. They along with 2 other major anti-abortion groups hosted an activist training camp here last week…and together they turned Albuquerque into an abortion battleground of sorts, hosting protests in front of the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum, UNM, and various other locations across the city.

"People claim to be pro choice but they don't really know what that choice means," De la O said. "People up here need to know the truth of what's going on. Then they should have an opinion. Then they should be able to vote. So we're here to provide that information for them."

The key word here being vote, because these protesters aren’t just trying to change the hearts and minds of those considering abortions, they’re also trying to sway public opinion.

A new ballot initiative called the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance would ask Albuquerque voters to decide whether abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, or so called “late term abortions” should stay legal in the city.

Albuquerque’s Project Defending Life is one of the groups sponsoring the legislation. According to spokeswoman Tara Shaver, they collected over 27,000 signatures, more than double the number required by city law for an initiative to get a spot on the ballot. "We were thinking what can we do here," Shaver explained, "in the late-term abortion capitol of the country. We have abortion all 9 months."

"Late-term abortion capital of the country" is a phrase being thrown around a lot amongst these activists. It referrs to the fact that Albuquerque is home to one of only a handful of clinics in the nation that openly performs such procedures. New Mexico has fewer restrictions on abortions than many other states.

, "We always have a hard time at the legislative level," Shaver adds,  "so we thought well, let's see what we can do in the city. This bill is very strong. And it does resonate with the hearts of the American people."

But not all the American people.

In response to the ballot initiative, a coalition of women’s advocacy groups have launched a counter campaign called Respect ABQ Women. Adriann Barboa is with Strong Families New Mexico, one of the effort’s partner organizations. "This is really a way to erode women’s access to abortion overall," Barboa said. "This is a tactic that folks are taking to chip away ​at that. We’re going to use this as an opportunity to have these conversations with our communities about the importance of keeping safe and legal abortions for the health and safety of women."

In the weeks leading up to the election Respect ABQ Women officials say volunteers will be campaigning heavily around the city door knocking, phone banking and hosting a series of “safe conversations.”

Barboa says the ultimate goal is to make sure the initiative doesn’t pass. If it does, organizations like the ACLU of New Mexico are promising that it would be challenged in court immediately arguing that it's unconstitutional. 

ACLU spokesman Micah McCoy says lawyers with his organization argue the 20 week ban violates the precedent established by Roe v. Wade, which found that a women cannot be improperly restricted in her choice to have an abortion before a fetus is viable. Viability is typically recognized to begin at 23-24 weeks of pregnancy.  

Federal courts have already struck down more strict measures in other states, such as North Dakota’s six-week ban and Arkansas’ 12-week ban, for the same reason.

"It’s always better to have an unconstitutional law defeated before it becomes law," McCoy adds. But that may not be possible. If enough of the initiative’s signatures are verified, city council officials say they must  put the measure to voters.

The only question now, is when. The city clerk has until August 19th to verify the signatures and put the measure on the ballot for this fall’s mayoral race. If they miss that deadline, a special election would be ordered or the measure could appear in a runoff election.

Editor's Note: When this report originally aired, it referred to anti-abortion activists as "pro-life." KUNM has revised language used in reporting on abortion to take into account critique of that term and the term "pro-choice." You can read more from the NPR Ombudsman on the topic.